Visit my new Happiness Project collection and shop journals, drinkware, organizational tools, and more.

“Doing Things That Scare Me Can Make Me Both Happy and Unhappy, and the Line is Often Surprising.”

Happiness interview: Janine DiTullio.

Last week, I went to the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas. On the flight down, although I usually never talk to my rowmate, I eventually struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to me.

It turned out she was a TV comedy writer who was headed down to SXSW to introduce Chirpbug, a technology that connects performers and fans over the internet. She helped found this company in her free time, along with writing for the heavy-metal cartoon Metalocalypse on Adult Swim. (She didn't mention it, but I found out later that she's written for Conan O'Brien, Jon Stewart, and Jimmy Fallon, and been nominated for multiple Emmy awards.)

But here's the crazy thing. We were talking away, and suddenly I remembered a panel about comedy-writing that I'd attended at the New York Public Library. "You know what," I said to her, "I may have seen you speak about eight years ago."

"Really?"

"If that was you, I've been quoting you ever since. Do you remember saying this? A guy in the audience asked, 'How do you get a job as a comedy writer?' And you, or whomever it was, said, 'You do what you love, and then your friends hire you.' Meaning, if you spend your time doing what you love with people who love it, too, eventually it turns into work opportunities."

"Oh, yes, I said that," said Janine.

I was floored by this! I'd been quoting her for years, and here she was! And it was such good advice. I thought about it a lot with my resolution to Do what you do.

"This is just like that scene in When Harry Met Sally!" I said. "When the character Marie quotes Jess's magazine piece, 'Restaurants are to people in the eighties what theater was to people in the sixties,' and Jess says, 'I wrote that.'" What a crazy small world.

So naturally I asked her to do an interview about happiness.

Gretchen: What's a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Janine: Gambling.


What's something you know now about happiness that you didn't know when you were 18 years old?

Happiness does not equal complacency.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Drinking soda + not exercising.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you've found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to "Be Gretchen.") Or a particular book that has stayed with you?
No. But I might start reminding myself to "Be Gretchen."

If you're feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost? Or, like a "comfort food," do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children's books).
I take a bath every day at 5pm.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
People seem to do a lot for their future happiness at the expense of their current happiness.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy - if so,why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?
I had a very unhappy period a few years ago precipitated by a break-up. I took some prozac and moved back home to help my Mom battle lung cancer.

Watching someone appreciate every drop of life and having the opportunity to help a parent deeply fortified my happiness even while adding sadness. Oh, and the prozac worked wonders, too.


Do you work on being happier? If so, how?

Luckily, my Dad brought us up to put happiness before almost everything, except maybe birth control. So, I had a head start at it, but it still takes work. I try to avoid things that make me feel a loss of personal freedom.

I find bad jobs can do that fast. I'd rather take financial risks than have a "stable job" any day. Of course, that might not be the case if it weren't for the birth control.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn't - or vice versa?
Doing things that scare me can make me both happy and unhappy and the line is often surprising.

* Also at SXSWi, I also met Nathan Thornburgh of DadWagon. I spent a lot of time checking out the site -- "trying to make sense of the sometimes baffling, often excruciating, occasionally amusing world of fatherhood."

* Join the happiness discussion on the Facebook Page. Lots of interesting conversation there. And follow me on Twitter as @gretchenrubin.

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.